The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Workers in the Public Sector

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2015 National Delegate Conference
24 February 2015

The last five years have seen the Coalition Government use the economic crisis as a means of devastating the public sector. The Government’s austerity measures, in response to the global crisis, have been extreme and harsh. The cuts in the public sector are too quick, too deep and causing devastation to the services that they provide, resulting in slashing vital support on which individuals and communities rely.

The Coalition Government is paying scant regard to the impact that policies are having on those affected, especially in the most deprived areas that have the greatest need for regeneration, jobs, social provision and growth. The crisis was not caused by the public sector but it is paying the price; services valued by all citizens are under threat of rampant privatisation and outsourcing.

This government has pledged to cut 730,000 public sector jobs by 2017 and to cut spending by £80bn, and already the North East has seen 59,000 public sector jobs lost. There has been an overall 40% central Government grant reduction over the last 5 years which has disproportionately hit those areas with the highest need the hardest. The Association of North East Councils (ANEC) has also stated that the grant cut for the North East would mean a cash budget reduction of around £190m (8%). There is no question that this level of reduction will have dramatic and damaging consequences for councils’ ability to fund vital public services, such as children’s and adult social care, that citizens and communities value and expect the local council to deliver.

No public sector organisation is being spared the Chancellor’s axe, including the NHS which is being rapidly prepared for privatisation since the implementation of the Health and Social Care Act. Since 2011, NHS staff have been paying the price of keeping the NHS within budget through pay freezes, while coping with widespread reform. The Coalition Government’s drive to privatise the NHS amounts to the selling off of the country’s greatest asset.

The Government has also consistently been disingenuous with its figures. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), which represents public sector accountants, has stated that the Government is double counting local government and health allocations of funds for social care.

Millions of working people’s jobs, pay and pensions are under threat, yet despite such heavy job losses in the public sector, it is noticeable that there has been no specific retraining or skilling programmes to assist those workers who have lost their employment. In the past when a region had substantial job losses in a particular sector such as heavy industry, European funding had been available for retraining those affected.

The future of public services is an issue that concerns people, not only as UNISON members, but also as citizens. UNISON has a valuable contribution to make in delivering and shaping services fit for the 21st century. Together with the Public Service Alliance, UNISON Northern have developed a public services manifesto which clearly articulates a vision for public services that works to benefit working people and communities. These principles should be underpinned in any trade discussion, such as The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, where there is a potential threat to jobs, health and safety standards and the democratic ability of governments to make decisions in the public interest.

There is an alternative to the breakup of the public sector through commissioning and procurement, which is leading to the reorganisation of service delivery into the hands of private profiteers, with less and less democratic accountability and engagement with communities on quality provision.

Services that are outsourced through procurement and commissioning must be subject to accountability through public scrutiny. UNISON must continue to campaign to ensure facility time in the procurement process, and that the trade union is part of the scrutiny process through workplace agreements. The role of health and safety reps in public sector contracts is crucial and these rights should be expanded.

As well as protecting the rights of workers, UNISON needs to champion the rights of service users to have a voice in the future of the public sector. In the North East through the Public Service Alliances, activists have been able to join with service users, the community and voluntary sector to fight to retain vital resources and services such as walk-in centres, prevent schools from going to academy status, and come together to fight the closure of libraries and leisure services, including youth services.

Working people and vulnerable groups should not be paying the cost of a global financial crisis. There is an alternative to the austerity measures being pursued by politicians that are out of touch with the realities of ordinary people’s lives.

Conference calls upon the National Executive Council to:

1)Campaign for quality public services that meet the needs of local communities;

2)Protect the terms and conditions of public sector workers threatened with privatisation or transfer to mutuals, co-operatives or social enterprises;

3)Promote public accountability for the delivery of public services through effective and meaningful scrutiny;

4)Ensure that, through workplace procurement agreements, the trade union is part of the procurement scrutiny process and that facility time is made available.

Furthermore, Conference calls for UNISON to campaign at local, regional and national level with elected representatives and other relevant organisations to promote an agenda that:

a)Petitions the European Parliament to call for European Funding to be made available for a comprehensive retraining program that would benefit and support public sector workers faced with job loss as a result of austerity measures;

b)Defends employment rights and trade union representation and rights;

c)Strengthens regulation to prohibit short-term speculative financial activity, and instead prioritise investment into socially beneficial and environmentally sustainable job creation;

d)Reforms the tax regime to strengthen and rebalance it by closing havens and loopholes, and ensuring big companies and the very rich pay a bigger share;

e)In terms of alternative models of delivery, promotes accountable public provision of healthcare, education, housing and social services that are protected and expanded to meet social and economic needs;

f)Campaigns against privatisation across all service groups;

g)Engages with citizens, employees, trade unions, employers and community organisations, in finding a way forward for enterprises, communities, and regional economies as a whole.